President Gong Ke: Innovation is to Let Ideas Break the Walls

“Let ideas break the walls” are the words of the Chinese version of the song “The Internationale”. During the “National Science and Technology Innovation Conference”, the “Conference of the Two Academies”, and the 9th “National Congress of the China Association for Science and Technology”, Secretary-general Xi Jinping stressed that “science and technology were created by human beings”. He also emphasized the roles of inspiration and innovative vitality of various talents in making innovation plans, promoting innovation, and implementing conscious actions. When I heard these words, I instinctively recalled the lyric of the song.

Ideological emancipation is the precondition for innovative vitality. If a country wants to inspire society’s innovative vitality, especially encouraging the broad masses of scientific and technical researchers, then visible and invisible walls should be broken. Visible walls mainly are inappropriate and unrealistic systems and regulations, while the invisible walls are ideological bounds. While developing a global technological power, China must depend on “two wheels running together”: these wheels are ideological emancipation and structural reforms. Promoting innovation and emancipation, the ideas will break the walls.

For example, ideas should start an emancipation process from the “imitation model”. Due to the fact that China has been, and still is, lagged behind for a long time in many fields, “overtake the world’s advanced standard” is always its main goal. However, thanks to this long-time “overtaking process”, China started using an “imitation model”, which is now well established in the mind of administrative personnel and researchers. Chinese government established the guiding principle “Independent Innovation, Keep Consideration focused on Long-projects, Supporting Development, Leading to the Future” a decade ago, but the “imitation model” cannot be eliminated. One obvious example is that China always asks “How did the developed countries do?” when raising the S&T projects, designing and approving different researching methodology, proving, checking and accepting the results of technology tackling. Of course, “In general, in the main scientific and technological areas, China has already achieved the strategic goal of ‘China must take its place in the field of high technology’ raised by Deng Xiaoping, and it is in its critical period of leaping development.” “We could be thrown into an unfavorable situation and miss development opportunities, or even miss an entire era, if we fail to recognize changes, respond to innovations, and seek reforms.” The so-called “confronting with the frontier of world technology” wants to open up reforms in the fields of science and technology. Breaking the wall of “imitation model” is necessary. 

The “Administrative model” is another wall China needs to eliminate. The long-term implementation of extensive administrative system upon S&T research and development formed an “administrative model”. It means that the administrative departments got used to occupy a commanding position and act according to their will, so what scientific researchers can only do is just wait, be dependent, and ask. This is exactly what Secretary-general criticized: “There are many problems, like leaders making unreasonable decisions and scientific research personnel echoing leaders’ words.” To solve these problems, structural reforms are a priority. At the same time, the broad masses of scientific researchers, the innovative majority, should emancipate their ideas, breaking the walls of “administrative model”, and creating a positive power while promoting S&T structural reforms.

China should also emancipate from the “discipline model”. Discipline changes with the development of scientific research. “Innovation” always means surpass discipline, giving birth to new knowledge or even to a new discipline. However, professional education was over-emphasized for a long time in China and discipline classification is too narrow. With the interweaving of discipline and administrative management, in recent years, the “discipline model” was strengthened by frequent discipline evaluations and rankings, which are connected to administrative resource distribution. The border of disciplines invisibly became the border of visions and ideas, thus, also became the border of innovation. If the “discipline model” will not be eliminated, it will seriously impede innovation. Central and Local Departments, administrative departments and universities, scientific research institutes and the broad masses of scientific and technical researches, and even the whole society should understand this problem.

Ideas should be borderless. Letting ideas break the walls, China will let innovation in.

Written by Gong Ke, President of Nankai University

Source: People’s Daily
Translated by Shi Yuchen
Proofread by Letizia Vallini

Nankai University

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